After Sunday’s success at The Oval the selectors would appear to have some difficult decisions to make as to the future line up and balance of the England test team. The upcoming tour of South Africa will be the a far more testing prospect for England than the recently won Ashes series against a struggling Australian team going through a period of transformation.
Firstly, the selectors should be applauded for refusing to be swayed by all pundits (mainly newspaper journalists) calling for panic stations to be manned with recalls for the likes of Mark Ramprakash, Marcus Trescothick, Geoff Boycott and the great man himself WG Grace.
All the same England’s batting must surely by now need looking at? Out of all the batsmen used this summer only Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen can justify their places on form alone, obviously Jonathon Trott has staked a strong claim for a place and must be rewarded for his performance with a run in the side as well.
Also with Andrew Fintoff retiring the selctors need to address the balance of the side. Do they go with 4 or 5 bowlers? Do they really want to promote Stuart Broad up the order to No.7? Heaping more pressure on his shoulders with the inevitable comparisons to Flintoff already doing a good job of that.
Is Matt Prior a good enough batsman to play at No.6 long term? If yes he would address the problem of balancing the team, but then you have Broad in at No.7. Prior seems to have coped ok with the responsability so far. But is he really a good enough No.6? These are questions the selectors have to answer.
In the batting department Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and Ravi Bopara pose problems for the selectors, they have decisions to make as to the best way forward for England’s struggling batsmen. Lets be honest over the last couple of years to say that some of them have looked like rabbits in headlights at times would be an understatement, and all have a lot of test experience except Bopara.
An England batsman doing well these days appears to be a player who scores 60 or 70 when his position is in doubt and consistently just does enough to keep his place in the side, not a player who excels.
All have been indifferent of late and although Geoff Miller will defend them with quotes along the line of they are all quality players with quality records and point to a hundred scored here and a hundred scored there over the years, all followers of England cricket know that they all struggle when it comes to playing against the likes of India, South Africa, Sri Lanka(mainly away) and Australia. If you get picked often enough you will come off successfully at some time or another.
With Joe Denly being picked for the One Day series against Australia maybe this is the selectors way of having a closer look at him performing under pressure with a view to going to South Africa. With a record of just three hundreds since December 2007 (and two of them were against West Indies) Alastair Cook’s position as opener must by now be a position of concern.
The No.3 batting position has also been a problem for England since – or even before – Michael Vaughan was left out after standing down as captain last year, with Bell, Shah and Bopara all having failed miserably there. Maybe a stint there for Alastair Cook would do him some good?
Failing that is it not time someone in the England management had the balls to tell Kevin Pietersen that it’s time for him to step up the plate and take the responsibility on. As by far England’s number one batsman it is a position that he should have been occupying for some time now in my opinion. That would in turn open up the middle order for the the stroke playing likes of Bopara, Bell and Trott, with Bell and Bopara in particular getting away from No.3 should ease some pressure off them and maybe allow them to perform as we know/think they can.
Paul Collingwood is another problem that needs addressing. For the second summer in a row, with no form to speak off he didn’t bother himself to go back and play for Durham between tests in an attempt to find some sort of form. I find this totally staggering, his influence around the management seems to have grown to such an extent that he seems to have put himself above reproach.
If England do decide to play six batsmen lets hope it is not just to accomodate the selectors not having to make difficult decisions with deciding on players futures. If they haven’t got the guts to drop Paul Collingwood or move Kevin Pietersen up the order they shouldn’t be in the job.
Consistency under pressure is a good asset to have, but lets not get it confused with blind loyalty.